Racing 92 took a giant step towards the Champions Cup quarter-finals with a 36-26 win over Leicester Tigers on Sunday, while Saracens joined the French side in making it three wins from three with a stunning second half revival to beat Cardiff Blues 51-25.
Here, we take a look at the key highlights from the weekend’s action.
Tournament favourites Leinster, Saracens and Racing 92 may have won their respective matches in round three, but their performances were gritty and unimpressive.
Surprise package Edinburgh starred on Friday with a 31-13 victory over a previously-unbeaten Newcastle side at Murrayfield, moving to the top of their pool courtesy of their bonus-point win.
But for all the Scottish side’s class in recent weeks, head coach Richard Cockerill is refusing to get carried away just yet in a group that includes Toulon and Montpellier.
However, at the midway point of the pool stage, Edinburgh are in pole position to advance to the last eight and are playing an attractive and open brand of rugby too.
PLAYERS OF THE WEEKEND
James Ryan (Leinster): It nearly feels like the 22-year-old is man-of-the-match in every game he plays. Against Bath on Saturday, he was the sole shining light in a dour contest, with a staggering 17 tackles and 14 carries. He also hammered rucks throughout and contributed effectively to the set piece.
Leone Nakarawra (Racing 92): The towering Fijian continued from where he left off last season with another sizzling performance in Racing’s 36-26 win over Leicester. The reigning European Player of the Year made eight tackles and seven offloads – including five in the first half. His work-rate, athleticism and general open field play made the Parisiens tick at the U Arena.
Sean Maitland (Saracens): The 30-year-old was outstanding in Sarries commanding victory over Cardiff, scoring twice and looking a menace any time he was in possession. The Scotland international made 12 runs for 142 metres and beat three defenders en route to picking up the man-of-the-match award.
GAME OF THE WEEKEND
Scarlets v Ulster
A thriller of a contest.
Ireland star Jacob Stockdale crossed the line in the first half to help the Ulstermen seal a sensational 25-24 bonus-point victory to put them in a qualifying position in Pool Four.
Henry Speight, Marcell Coetzee and man-of-the-match Will Addison also touched down for Dan McFarland’s side, who can make it three wins from four if they beat the Welsh side in Belfast on Friday.
Trailing by a point, Scarlets had possession for six minutes after time expired, but they could not breach Ulster’s granite-like defence, and the visitors held on for a stunning victory.
TRY OF THE WEEKEND
Although he finished on the losing team, Matthew Morgan’s solo effort in Cardiff’s defeat to Saracens was the stand-out score of the weekend.
Collecting possession in his own 22, the 26-year-old slalomed through the imposing Saracens defence to touch down for a superb try.
His score would give the Welsh region a five point lead at the break, but the 2016 champions duly upped the tempo in the second half to win comfortably.
Wasps: Dai Young’s side are on the brink of another early exit following a eight point home defeat to Toulouse (24-16). Without a win from their three matches in the group, Wasps look devoid of any creativity in attack and defence. And with Elliot Daly, Nathan Hughes and Willie le Roux all linked with a move away from Ricoh Arena next summer, Wasps could be weakened further should they lose three of their star players.
Exeter: Another team sprinkled with talent but cannot transfer their domestic form on to the European stage. For the second year in succession, Rob Baxter’s side are out at the pool stages following a 27-19 defeat to Gloucester at Sandy Park. It’s a serious underachievement for a team who has been one of the best in England over the past four years and most enjoyable to watch. Perhaps Stuart Hogg’s addition next summer could bolster their chances on the big stage.
Scarlets: The 2018 semi-finalists are winless at the halfway point of the pool stage and appear low on confidence. Although they are second in the PRO14 behind Leinster, Wayne Pivac’s loose and open game plan has not been enough to overpower the likes of Ulster, Racing or Leicester in Europe. With a place in the quarter-finals looking unlikely, Scarlets only have pride to play for in the last three rounds.
Mark McCall insists Saracens were not good enough against Cardiff Blues, even though they scored six second-half tries and ran out 51-25 winners at Allianz Park.
Ben Earl came off the bench to score two second-half tries while wing Sean Maitland also added two in quick succession, but the former champions had to turn it around after a poor first half.
Blaine Scully and Matthew Morgan both crossed for the Blues to hand them an 18-13 half-time lead and, despite the improved second-half display and ultimately comfortable win, McCall cut a frustrated figure at full-time.
“There’s a feeling of dissatisfaction in the dressing room because of how the first half went today. There are certain things we did which just aren’t good enough,” the director of rugby said.
“It was a strange first half. We had a lot of possession and field position but we weren’t very strong with either, and we gave away two very sloppy tries, especially the second.
“We knew we needed an extra five or 10 per cent in a couple of areas and the players were very clear at half-time about what needed to improve.
“We played better in the second half but we still didn’t play brilliantly, and we had a few things go our way too.
“Individually there were some positives today but as a team we’re not really where I’d want to be. We need to be better next week.”
Richard Wigglesworth’s try and two Owen Farrell penalties were all Saracens had to show from a first half in which they were outfoxed by the impressive Blues, who played with a high intensity.
Scully crossed out wide for his first try of the season before Morgan’s stunning individual effort hinted at an upset.
But Earl’s introduction changed the game and he scored twice in quick succession, before Maitland (two), Christian Judge and Ben Spencer ensured Saracens moved back to the top of Pool 3 above Glasgow Warriors.
The Blues sit third and know they need to beat Saracens in the reverse fixture next week to have any hope of reaching the last eight.
Munster head coach Johann Van Graan hailed his side’s second-half display as they secured a 30-5 win over Castres Olympique in their Heineken Champions Cup clash at Thomond Park.
Rory Scannell, CJ Stander and man-of-the-match JJ Hanrahan all ran in tries in the second period to help the Irish province seal a deserved victory over the reigning French champions.
The victory, which did not include a bonus point, leaves Munster three points clear of Gloucester at the top of Pool Two after three games, with Castres six points off the pace in third.
Van Graan said: “It was a very tough European battle between two heavyweights. Credit to Castres, who stuck to their task.
“I was very happy with the way we adapted to one or two disruptions pre-game and in-game it was a lot wetter than we anticipated in that first 40 minutes and we tightened up at half-time.
“All credit to the players who adapted to what we wanted in that second half.
“We went through them and I thought we got a comfortable victory in the end by 25 points which we would have taken before the game.”
The South African was pleased with Hanrahan’s performance after the fly-half was brought in as a late replacement for the injured Joey Carbery, while Munster also lost Ireland centre Chris Farrell to an injury in the warm-up.
“It is not ideal losing players like Joey Carbery and Chris Farrell shortly before kick-off, but that is why you have a squad. Our squad depth got tested today, both at 10 and at 13,” he said.
“I am glad that JJ stepped up so well and that Sammy (Arnold) stepped up. All credit to our mindset. It doesn’t matter who gets picked or what happens, we have to adapt and I’m very happy with that.”